List Fun: YA Graphic Novels with Diverse Characters

My very first time as a Cybils judge was in 2006, as a part of the Graphic Novels round 1 panel. I’ve participated every year since then (not always in Graphic Novels, but often), and one of my favorite aspects of Cybils judging is having the opportunity to read such an immense variety of books with intriguing, diverse characters and stories.

Diversity has been the word of the day lately when it comes to books for young readers, but I know firsthand that Cybils has always had an eye out for reads that appeal to the widest possible range of readers. And certainly the number of diverse books available to us—in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, orientation—has only increased over the past seven years of the Cybils contest, and we’re finally at the wonderful stage that comics by (and about) women and people of color, by and about people with disabilities and LGBTQ people, are no longer surprise-worthy, but rather a rapidly growing segment of the comics industry that is adding vibrancy and excitement to the graphic novel format.

There are a great many fantastic graphic novels for young adult readers that deal with subject matter we can call “diverse”: graphic novels about other cultures and other countries, and about our own; stories set in the past and in the present day; stories about soldiers and students and superheroes. The ones I’ve listed here are limited to Cybils Finalists and Winners, but there are LOTS more out there, and there are great ones for Elementary/Middle Grade readers as well, so by no means is this definitive—but these are the ones our Cybils judges over the years have deemed the best of the best.

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (Winner, 2006)

La Perdida by Jessica Abel (Finalist, 2006)

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Finalist, 2008)

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri (Winner, 2010)

Level Up by Gene Yang and Thien Pham (Finalist, 2011)

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana (Finalist, 2012)

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White by Lila Quintero Weaver (Finalist, 2012)

Boxers & Saints by Gene Yang (Finalist, 2013)

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay (Finalist, 2013)

Uzumaki by Junji Ito (Finalist, 2013)

The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew (Finalist, 2014)

Strange Fruit, Vol. 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (Finalist, 2014)

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks (Finalist, 2014)

— Sarah Stevenson, Finding Wonderland